How to Let Go of Expectations & Why It’s Important

Life is full of surprises, often not what we expect. Think about planning a sunny day out, only to be greeted by rain. This happens a lot in life, too. But here’s a thought: what if letting go of expectations could actually make us happier?

Letting go is about finding balance. It’s about welcoming surprises as opportunities, not disappointments. It’s about living more in the moment.

So, are you ready to explore simple, practical ways to ease up your own demands or the high hopes of others? Can letting go truly lead to peace and joy? Keep reading; it might just shift your perspective.

Notice Your Expectations

We all have these little rules in our heads about how things should go. Then, when things don’t go as planned, we feel blue. The first step to change this is to spot our own expectations.

When you catch yourself thinking, “This should be like this,” take a pause. That’s an expectation! It could be anything—expecting a quick reply from a friend, thinking you’ll nail a project on the first try, or hoping for a perfect weekend. 

Here’s a simple way to track it:

  • Jot down when you feel let down or upset.
  • Ask yourself what you were expecting.
  • Reflect on whether that expectation was really in your control.

The more you know about what you expect, the easier it is to let those expectations go.

"You have to know you had expectations, to begin with... Most of our expectations are pretty benign. But when we get upset about something, that's when we know that we probably had an expectation that wasn't met. So this is good evidence that we need to examine our expectations."

— Kimberly M. Daniels, Psy.D. | Clinical Psychologist | Founder, Your Weight is NOT Your Worth

Embrace “Good Enough” Over “Perfect”

Who else gets stuck on making things just right? You’re not alone. The good news? “Good enough” usually does the trick. Spend less time worrying about perfection and more time doing your best.

A quick checklist for “good enough” moments:

  • Did I do my best with what I have?
  • Can I look at what I’ve done and smile?
  • If something small isn’t spot-on, is it still okay overall?

When you tick these boxes, take a step back and appreciate your work. Everyone has their own version of good enough, and that’s okay.

Set Realistic Goals

Now, let’s talk goals. They’re promises we make to ourselves, so they better be promises we can keep, right? If you aim too high too fast, it’s like trying to climb a ladder with missing rungs—not fun.

So, let’s keep it simple and achievable. Starting small can lead to big things. Want to learn something new? How about a few basics this week and see how we go from there? This way, goals don’t seem so scary, and you’ll get there step by step.

"Letting go of expectations is best done by not letting go of them completely! Keep the goal in mind, write it somewhere and lock it up in a drawer, then move in its general direction. Learning to hold the goal in the back of your thoughts is a little like sailing, keeping the land in sight but going where the wind takes you."

Adam Cole | Jazz Musician | Writer

Tune Into the Present Moment

Okay, so you’re here now. But is your mind also here, or is it running off planning the next big adventure or worrying about what you said yesterday? 

Tuning into the present is like finally noticing the color of the sky or how your coffee actually tastes. It’s about hitting pause on the mental marathon.

Try this: next time you find your mind darting ahead or lingering in the past, take a deep breath. Look around. What’s one thing you see? Maybe it’s the weird pattern your cereal made in the bowl. That’s it. You’re in the moment.

"Expectations are often about the future. When we focus so much on the future, we aren't living our lives right now. By letting go of expectations, we can be more present and more fully involved in our daily lives. Which helps us to stop creating more expectations!"

— Kimberly M. Daniels, Psy.D. | Clinical Psychologist | Founder, Your Weight is NOT Your Worth

Practice Self-Compassion

How often do we talk to ourselves in a way we’d never talk to a friend? Probably more than we’d like to admit. Practicing self-compassion is like giving yourself a break. Messed up? That’s okay. We all do. It’s about being as kind to ourselves as we are to others.

Here’s what you can do:

  • When you’re feeling down, treat yourself like you’d treat a good friend.
  • Tell yourself something encouraging.
  • Remember, nobody’s perfect. And that’s 100% fine.

Being kind to yourself helps take the pressure off those heavy expectations. You deserve that kindness, especially from yourself.

Reframe “Failure” as Learning

Remember when you were a kid and fell off your bike? You probably got back on it, right? That’s because, as kids, we don’t see falling as failing—it’s just part of learning. Somewhere along the way, we forget that. Reframing “failure” as learning is about remembering.

Next time something flops, instead of thinking, “I failed,” switch it to “I learned.” It’s a small twist with a big impact.

Consider asking yourself these:

  • What did this experience teach me?
  • What can I do differently next time?
  • How have I grown from this?

Be True to Yourself

Being true to yourself sounds like something from a motivational poster, right? But really, it’s about knowing who you are and what you stand for. It’s recognizing that you’re the main character in your life story—quirks, interests, all of it. 

Let’s ditch the “should be” and embrace the “is.” Love odd music? Great. Prefer staying in on a Friday night? Cool. It’s all about what makes you, well, you.

Your choices, hobbies, and dreams make you unique. So celebrate them! The more you honor your own vibe, the less you’ll worry about living up to what others expect.

"The best way to do this is by having faith in ourselves, understanding that although feeling in complete control is an illusion – we can always choose how to respond and through trusting that what we need will come to us, even though it may not be in the way we expect."

Suzanne Wylde | Holistic Coach

Communicate Openly and Honestly

Here’s a thing about humans—we’re not mind readers! That means saying what you think and feel is pretty important. Whether it’s with friends, family, or at work, clear communication helps set realistic expectations. 

And how does that work? It’s straightforward:

  • Let people know what you can and can’t do.
  • When something isn’t clear, ask.
  • If plans change, tell folks as soon as you can.

It’s way better than guessing games and hoping people will just “get it.” Plus, honest talk prevents those pesky misunderstandings from popping up.

Challenge Your Own Beliefs and Assumptions

Now, this is about taking a step back and looking at your own thoughts. Some of them have been hanging around since forever. Are they helping you or holding you back? 

It’s okay to question them, to poke and prod a bit. Think about stuff like:

  • Is this idea mine or someone else’s?
  • Does believing this make me happy or stressed?
  • What happens if I think the opposite?

Shaking up those old ideas can feel weird at first, but it’s about making room for new, shinier ones that fit you better now. It’s like spring cleaning for your brain—out with the dusty, in with the fresh.

"Letting the fearful aspect of ourselves set the agenda for how we are viewing reality is a liability because if things play out in a different way, we can lose our sense of self and with it our balance, confidence, and spontaneity, among other things."

Suzanne Wylde | Holistic Coach

Seek Joy, Not Approval

Chasing a thumbs-up from everybody? That’s like running a race with no finish line—you’ll just end up out of breath. How about we switch gears and seek what makes us do a happy dance instead? 

When you focus on what brings you joy, not on the nods of approval from others, life gets a little lighter.

So, bake cookies because they are fun, not because you want likes on your social media. Sing off-key if it makes you smile. Find what tickles your fancy and dive into it. Joy is personal, and when it’s your guide, you’re on the path to a life that’s authentically yours. No stamp of approval is needed!

Celebrate Small Wins Daily

Have you ever had a day when making your bed felt like a win? Or that feeling when you cross something off your to-do list—it’s like getting a mini gold medal. Celebrating small wins gives us those little boosts of Heck, yes, I did that!” 

Get into the habit of recognizing these wins:

  • Make a list of your daily tasks.
  • Tick them off with enthusiasm as you complete them.
  • For each tick, pat yourself on the back (literally, why not?).

Remember, the small things build up to the big picture. Celebrating the little stuff stacks up joy, confidence, and a sense of achievement.

Cultivate Empathy and Understanding

Walking in someone else’s shoes isn’t just a saying—it’s a way to truly connect. Cultivating empathy and understanding means actively listening and trying to see things from another’s perspective.

When you understand what others might be going through, it’s easier to let go of rigid expectations—for them and yourself.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always agree, and that’s okay. It’s about acknowledging their feelings and viewpoints. Whether it’s understanding a friend’s fear of heights or getting why a coworker prefers emails over calls, it strengthens relationships.

Focus on Gratitude

What are you thankful for? That first sip of morning coffee, a call from an old friend, your trusty pair of sneakers? There’s gold in those moments. And the more you look for it, the more you’ll find. Acknowledging these can shift the whole vibe of your day.

Try this: At the end of your day, think of three things you’re thankful for. They don’t have to be big. Maybe the bus came on time, or you saw a dog on your walk. This habit turns the spotlight on the good stuff, making the not-so-good stuff feel a bit lighter.

"We can have fun and be happy even if things do not go our way, we can be creative when new problems arise and we can continue to like ourselves even if we are not always able to control how we come across to others or what we can achieve."

Suzanne Wylde | Holistic Coach

Ask for Help

We all hit rough patches. And guess what? It’s okay to wave your hand and ask for help. It’s not waving a white flag; it’s more like tagging in a teammate. Whether you need advice, a listening ear, or a hand moving a heavy couch—reach out.

This could be by:

  • Calling a friend or family member
  • Chatting with a colleague or mentor
  • Joining a group or class where others are learning just like you

As soon as you let others in, you’ll notice the load feels lighter. And people often love to give a helping hand. It makes them feel good, too. Sharing your challenges doesn’t add to others’ burdens; it builds bridges.

Embrace Uncertainty

Life, in its essence, is unpredictable. Plans change, surprises pop up, and sometimes, the unexpected happens. But what if we saw this not as a setback but as part of the adventure?

Embracing uncertainty is about making peace with not having all the answers and that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. Every day is different—some days, it’s sunshine and joy; other days, it’s learning to dance in the rain. And sometimes, sometimes the unexpected is just what we need to break free from our own tough expectations.

"Accept the things you can't control and move forward. The truth is that as hard as it is to let go of control, there's simply no way of knowing what life will throw your way."

— Adina-Mahalli | Certified Mental Health Consultant | Relationship Expert, Enlightened Reality

Foster Flexibility in Planning

So, you’ve got a plan. It’s a good one. You’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, and you’re all set. But then, out of nowhere, life throws you a curveball. Maybe it’s unexpected work, a friend in need, or a really tempting Netflix series calling your name. Suddenly, that plan looks a bit shaky.

Here’s where we twist the plot and bring in a bit of flexibility. You can:

  • Shuffle things around.
  • Prioritize what must be done today.
  • Move what can wait to tomorrow.

Flexibility in planning means allowing yourself to adjust, breathe, and take things in stride. It’s about celebrating the detours just as much as the milestones.

Look on the Bright Side

Even on cloud-filled days, there’s a bit of sun peeking through somewhere. It’s all about where you choose to look—caught in the rain? Hey, it’s a free shower, and don’t plants need water to grow?

This isn’t about ignoring the negatives but instead not letting them hog the spotlight. When a plan topples, look for what you gained. Maybe you learned something new, or perhaps you found out who’s really there for you. Lightening up helps you let go of strict expectations and roll with the punches. 

"Instead, you're able to look towards events positively knowing that if things don't go exactly as planned, or the unexpected happens, you're able to accept that and move forward regardless of the outcome."

— Adina-Mahalli | Certified Mental Health Consultant | Relationship Expert, Enlightened Reality

Check Your Own Expectations of Others

We’ve talked about our expectations for life and ourselves, but what about what we expect from those around us? Sometimes, we’re quick to judge and expect others to read our minds or live up to a perfect image in our heads. This is unfair to them and stressful for us.

Understanding that friends, family, and colleagues have their own battles, dreams, and setbacks is crucial.

So, catch yourself when you’re expecting too much and ask:

  • Is what I’m expecting realistic?
  • Have I communicated my needs clearly?
  • Can I give them space to be themselves?

By keeping tabs on our expectations of others, we foster healthier relationships and keep our own stress in check.

Develop Patience and Tolerance

Growing patience is like learning to enjoy the journey, not just racing to the destination. It’s realizing that sometimes, the red light is just a chance to enjoy your favorite song a little longer. 

Meanwhile, tolerance goes hand in hand with patience. It’s embracing the idea that the world isn’t tailor-made to our preferences. People will think, act, and live differently—and that’s not just okay; it’s wonderful.

By fostering these two qualities, we’re not just waiting out the storm but learning to dance in the rain. Together, they guide us towards a more open, accepting way of living where the grip of rigid expectations loosens, letting joy flow more freely.

Engage in Reflective Practices

Think of reflective practices as having a heart-to-heart with yourself. It’s carving out time to ponder your day, actions, and feelings. 

Reflective practices to try:

  • Keep a journal to jot down your thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk it out with someone you trust.
  • Take a quiet walk to mull over your day.

And no, this isn’t about beating yourself up over what went wrong. It’s about learning and growing. It’s recognizing your victories, no matter how small, and understanding your struggles. 

Over time, this practice builds a deep well of self-knowledge and wisdom you can draw from. It helps you see where you’re going and how far you’ve come.

Why Releasing Expectations Matters

Now that you know the steps to release expectations, let’s connect the dots to their importance. It’s time to uncover why this practice is a game-changer for your overall happiness and stress levels.

Here’s how dropping those expectation-bricks can benefit you:

  • You enjoy life more: When you’re not busy being upset because things didn’t go as planned, you have more room to notice and appreciate the good stuff.
  • Reduced stress: Expectations can create inner tension when they’re not met; releasing them can lead to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind.
  • Improved relationships: Freeing yourself and others from the constraints of expectations fosters a healthier dynamic where genuine connections can flourish.
  • Encourages growth and learning: When your expectations do not confine you, you’re more willing to take risks and try new things, leading to personal growth and opportunities for learning.
  • Boosts creativity: Freedom from predefined outcomes allows your mind to explore more creative paths and innovative solutions.
  • Fosters acceptance: Letting go helps you accept things as they are, not as you wish they would be, which is crucial for coping with life’s inherent unpredictability.

Letting expectations go doesn’t mean you stop caring about outcomes; it just means you’re cool with taking life one surprise at a time. Embracing this can transform how you live, engage, and find joy in the everyday.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to have no expectations at all?

Having no expectations at all might be unrealistic because expectations are a natural part of thinking about the future. However, we can work towards managing and reducing unrealistic expectations to better cope with life’s ups and downs.

How will I know if I’ve successfully let go of expectations?

You’ll feel less stress over the need for control and more at peace with the unpredictability of life. Joy will come easier, and you’ll find acceptance for the here and now.

Why it’s hard to let go of expectations?

Letting go of expectations is challenging for several reasons:

Hardwired habits: Our brains are programmed to find and follow patterns, so we naturally develop expectations based on past experiences.

Societal pressure: Culture and society often influence us with their standards of success and happiness, leading to internalized expectations about how we “should” live our lives.

Fear of uncertainty: Many people find comfort in predictability. The unknown can be scary, so clinging to expectations can feel like a safety net.

Personal identity: Sometimes, our expectations are tied to our sense of self. Letting them go can feel like losing a part of who we are.

Emotional attachment: We invest emotions in our hopes and dreams. When reality diverges, it can be like dealing with loss, making it hard to let go.

Lack of control: Expectations can give a false sense of control over life’s outcomes. Surrendering them means accepting that we can’t control everything, which can be daunting.

What if letting go of expectations makes me feel like I’m settling for less?

Letting go of expectations doesn’t mean lowering your standards or accepting less than you deserve. It’s about finding satisfaction in what you have and where you are while still being open to growth and change.

Final Thoughts

Let’s remember one thing: life is unpredictable, and that’s not a bad thing. Letting go of expectations opens the door to new possibilities and experiences that planning alone could never bring.

Life can feel lighter and more joyful when we stop holding so tightly to how we think things should be.

So, give it a try. Start small. Let go of one small expectation and see what happens. You might be surprised by how freeing it feels. Here’s to embracing life’s unexpected moments with a smile.

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Robby is a multimedia editor at UpJourney with a journalism and communications background.

When she's not working, Robby transforms into an introverted art lover who indulges in her love for sports, learning new things, and sipping her favorite soda. She also enjoys unwinding with feel-good movies, books, and video games. She's also a proud pet parent to her beloved dog, Dustin.